Manchester Arena attack inquiry: Security service failings won’t be covered up, families promised

The nail-bomber was known to the security services for three years before his attack

Lamiat Sabin
Friday 01 October 2021 16:31 BST
<p>Salman Abedi adjusting wiring underneath his clothing as he carries his suicide bomb in a lift at Manchester Arena shortly before the attack</p>

Salman Abedi adjusting wiring underneath his clothing as he carries his suicide bomb in a lift at Manchester Arena shortly before the attack

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Families of 22 people who died in the Manchester Arena bombing have been promised that any mistakes by police or the security services will not be covered up during an ongoing inquiry.

At a hearing on Friday, the bereaved’s lawyers asked for “maximum exposure” of any oversights and failings of the authorities in the run-up to the terrorist attack on 22 May 2017.

The public inquiry is to explore the issue of whether the MI5 and counter-terror police could or should have prevented suicide bomber Salman Abedi and his brother Hashem from scheming and carrying out the murder of 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert.

Abedi, 22, was known to the security services from July 2014 onwards, three years before killing 10 teenagers and children, eight women, and four men.

He had also been made a “subject of interest” at one point and was in contact and made prison visits to jailed terrorist Abdulraouf Abdallah, with the two discussing “martyrdom” operations.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders ruled that some evidence will be heard in “closed” private sessions without the bereaved, their lawyers, and the press present.

He said that sensitive evidence heard in public could compromise national security by revealing security services’ operations and methods that terrorists could then use to avoid getting caught while carrying out attacks in future.

Several witnesses are also set to give their evidence anonymously in closed sessions, with only limited, pre-vetted information to be made public afterwards.

he witnesses include counter-terror police officers, a witness for MI5, and witness Z, a former MI5 officer who will give their opinion on the performance of the security services.

John Cooper QC, representing a number of families, said he did not disagree with the position of closed hearings but he called for “maximum disclosure” when possible to ensure national security is not used as a blanket measure to restrict public knowledge of mistakes.

He added: “National security and covering up embarrassments... you are very aware of that potentially here.

“It is something some of us have seen in other spheres, in inquests relating to deaths in the military, that sometimes, something that’s called national security, we argue against redaction, we succeed, and actually see the redaction, and it’s nothing more than potentially simply an embarrassing piece of material.”

In response, Sir John said he was “even more determined” to make sure any mistakes by the MI5 or police were not covered up.

He said: “Mr Cooper, I hope as further reassurance to the families, you and I over the last two weeks have heard some of the most heart-rending evidence I have ever heard in any sort of tribunal.

“And we have all been affected deeply by it, and the idea I would allow the security service to cover up mistakes in order to avoid embarrassment is something, I can assure you, I would not have done even if I hadn’t heard the heart-rending evidence, but I’m even more determined.

“Equally, I would also seek to do everything I could to not disclose things that would result in other people going through the sort of torment that the families in this case have gone through.

“So, that’s the balance on both sides, and I can well understand their desire to know absolutely everything they can know, and any mistake that’s been made.

“But I know that the last thing any of them would want is for anything to happen in this inquiry which would lead to something like or make it easier for something like this ever to happen again.”

Hearings on preventability of the attack are due to start next month. The inquiry has been adjourned until Monday next week.

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